|Monument (marnanel) wrote,|
@ 2009-06-20 08:51 pm UTC
You might have discovered by now that I'm rather a fan of the Shavian alphabet
. That doesn't mean I'm entirely uncritical of its design. Here are some of my gripes:
- Most of the letters are visually distinct enough. But 𐑓 and 𐑝 (f and v) are too similar to 𐑐 and 𐑚 (p and b), to which they are unrelated. Likewise for the vowels 𐑩 uh 𐑨 a 𐑧 e 𐑪 o: they are far too similar to one another, especially when handwritten.
- Similarly 𐑯 and 𐑥 (n and m) are too similar when handwritten to the rather rare vowels 𐑷 and 𐑭 (awe and ah).
- Since most Americans merge 𐑷 and 𐑪 anyway, and some merge both with 𐑭, we could avoid the previous problem simply: just write them all as 𐑪 and be done with it. I don't believe this merger causes the Americans to have trouble understanding one another. (And Shavian does without a character for wh already, presumably because mergers have brought it to extinction in most dialects of English.)
- The rule about pairing off voiced and unvoiced consonants is a good one. But 𐑘 and 𐑢 (y and w) bear no relation to one another and shouldn't be paired.
- In the same way, it's perhaps not unreasonable to pair 𐑙 and 𐑣 (ng and h) since these sounds occur in opposition. But they should probably have been written the other way up, since 𐑙 is now the only voiced tall letter.
- All the ligatures, 𐑸 ar, 𐑹 or, 𐑼 uhr, 𐑺 air, 𐑽 ear, 𐑻 err, and especially 𐑾 ia and 𐑿 yu were a mistake (though it's nice to be able to write "𐑲♥𐑿"). People would already run screaming from an alphabet with forty letters; there's no call to add eight more redundant ones. Even Shaw Script didn't use them, though that's because they're too wide for a typewritten character.
- The naming dot (𐑥𐑸𐑒 is mark, ·𐑥𐑸𐑒 is Mark) is a nuisance for automated transliteration, though I understand that this was less of a big deal in 1960. It doesn't add much that's useful. The caselessness of Shavian is a strength, and this seems to be a concession to case.
- The Alphabet Trust marketed it in the wrong way (though this wasn't really their fault, since the money was taken away). What they should have done, even before printing Androcles, is sponsored classes across the country in institutes of further education. (They were legally obliged to print Androcles under the terms of the will, and they did a good job with it. It was the right decision to print it rather than produce a facsimile of calligraphy.)
- They should also have produced a standard lexicon so that people could look up the Shavian transliteration of any common word in the Latin alphabet. The lack of such a lexicon made adoption much harder.
- Shaw wanted the script to represent English as spoken in the North, yet Androcles standardised on RP spelling throughout.
- Also, whoever transliterated Androcles was not as enlightened as the alphabet's designer. In particular they represent syllabic consonants with a leading schwa: "battle" is transliterated 𐑚𐑨𐑑𐑩𐑤 and not 𐑚𐑩𐑑𐑤 as you might reasonably expect.
- The designer of Shavian, Kingsley Read, conducted a large number of trials after Shavian was released, and produced a new script called Quikscript (also known as "Second Shaw"). It was based on Shavian, but with fixes for the problems identified by the trials. Such a large-scale trial should really have been done before Shavian was ever launched.
Yet I'm not calling for Shavian to be abandoned (more than it already is) and a new alphabet to be started like Kingsley Read's or others
. There's little enough life in the trunk, and branches would wither immediately. Whatever problems Shavian may have, the conventional spelling is a thousand times worse. And once you have a well-known and fairly standard form like Shavian, which anyone can read about in the history of spelling reform and which is in both ISO 15924 and Unicode, I like to stick to it unless there's a really compelling reason not to. As a parallel, Esperanto may have been a failure as a constructed world language, but it still has around a million speakers. How many speakers can its various reforms